If the Wisconsin Badgers didn’t know before, they know now – your entire season can change on a single, last-chance, desperate heave of play.
The Badgers and Michigan State Spartans found themselves locked at 31 with the seconds of regulation winding down. The former group needed one final strong defensive stand, and the latter bunch needed a miracle.
After the snap, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins got the ball in his hands and quickly rolled out, trying desperately to elongate the play and give his receivers time to scramble downfield. By design, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham took the lead going forward and braced himself – his job wasn’t to actually receive the ball, it was tip the ball to a trailing receiver Keith Nichol so that his counterpart could then catch the deflection and bring it in for a touchdown.
It was a play perfectly built for the pressure free Spartans practices, but one destined to fail under the bright lights of a legitimate, vital Saturday night game.
"Usually, when no one is covering us, we're pretty good," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio jokingly said of the play they referred to as “Rocket” after the game.
Turns out, it worked pretty well with the year on the line too.
As choreographed, Cunningham jumped up, got his hands on the ball and tipped it to Nichol, who found himself in picture-perfect position, just as they had planned it. With the ball in his hands, he pushed forward with all his might, only to get rammed out of the end zone by Wisconsin defenders.
Did Nichol break the plane of the end zone before getting shoved out? Initially, the referees ruled against it. However, after repeatedly reviewing the play, the officials eventually overturned the play and ruled it a touchdown. To them, apparently, the evidence was conclusive enough.
"I swear I thought I got the ball across," Nichol said. "I knew once they went to review it that it was going to be a touchdown. I could just feel it. I went across the line with the ball for a split-second. There was no way I could be denied. I just knew [it was a touchdown] in my gut."
And just like that, on a single miracle Hail Mary play, the entire balance of power in the Big Ten Conference shifted. The Badgers, who looked poised to run away with things – returned back down to earth, reviving the seasons of 1-loss Michigan State and Nebraska along the way.